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Officials say Austin downtown tunnel not built correctly

March 8, 2018

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A contractor is suing Austin after city officials accused the firm of building a more than $161 million downtown tunnel with structural problems they said will reduce its ability to control flooding.

The city sent a Feb. 23 letter to S.J. Louis Construction saying workers built the Waller Creek Tunnel with concrete and liner problems, as well as missing sections of rebar needed for structural integrity. Because of that, the tunnel has lost much of freeboard, which is the extra capacity built in to guard against unexpectedly large floods, the Austin-American Statesman reported .

“The loss of freeboard reduces the primary purposes of the tunnel, flood protection,” the letter stated. “The city will never be made whole and is forced to accept a tunnel with a diminished value.”

The Waller Creek Tunnel is a one-mile channel to Lady Bird Lake. It’s designed to protect nearby areas from flooding and allow development of a major part of downtown currently in the floodplain.

S.J. Louis’ part of the job was technically completed in 2015, and the firm continued making repairs until last year. But the tunnel’s structural integrity and lifespan is still diminished, according to the city.

City officials will retroactively terminate their contract with S.J. Louis if the firm doesn’t repay Austin $22.3 million for a 10 percent reduced value of the tunnel, delays in completing it and costs to determine the extent of the construction flaws, according to the letter.

The firm filed a lawsuit against the city this week arguing that Austin can’t terminate a contract that’s already complete. It said the city’s threat is a way to gain leverage to receive payment.

“The steps being taken by the city are repugnant to the concepts of fair dealing,” the lawsuit stated. “Termination of the contract would devastate S.J. Louis’ business because it is required to disclose termination in future application for government/public works contracts.”

The company has asked for temporary restraining order to prevent Austin from terminating the contract.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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